Cubs

Sveum addresses trade rumors surrounding Cubs

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Sveum addresses trade rumors surrounding Cubs

Trade rumors are running rampant around Major League Baseball right now, and the Cubs are right in the thick of things.Ryan Dempster figures to be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, and other big names such as Matt Garza, Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano may also be packing their bags in a couple weeks.Even veteran role players -- such as Reed Johnson or Jeff Baker -- or guys with only a couple years under their belts such as Darwin Barney or Bryan LaHair -- hear their names mentioned in rumors."It's that time of year. It's inevitable," manager Dale Sveum said before Friday's game.Garza and Dempster's names have been linked a plethora of reports over the past couple of months, and for two veteran guys with families to think about, the rumors can grow tiring.
However, Sveum says he doesn't believe his players' performances are affected."I don't think it ever impacts wins or losses," he said. "It's in the media, whether it's all 25 guys' names or not. You just never know how that works out. It's part of the game. I think once these guys cross the line -- even in batting practice -- none of that stuff comes into play."Off the field, it's something that's there. It's been there for a long time. You have to deal with it and understand that rumors are rumors and until it happens, it ain't no big deal," he added.Sveum, a first-round pick of the Brewers in 1982, has been around the game for almost three decades, both as a coach and player. He's been traded, released and seen other guys go through the same."That's the course of the game sometimes -- the rumors and everything," he said. "I've been on teams where there's a little bit of talk or a lot of it and then you get to the trading deadline and wow, nothing happens."When you do deals and all that stuff, you still have to get something in return. There's not always the perfect deal out there. The team that wants your players has to have the right scenario that you want to get back, too."So sometimes everything can fall apart as well as good things happening, too. You can have the in-between, you can have a fire sale, or you can have nobody get traded."This season will be different than years past, as the addition of the second Wild Card in each league creates another playoff spot teams can vie for. There are currently 22 teams across the league that are within six games of a Wild Card spot. Sixteen of those teams are within 1.5 games."There's no question the extra Wild Card is impacting things," Sveum said. There's 20 teams right now that are capable of getting into the playoffs with that extra team."There's going to be more talk and more teams that say 'OK, if we put this piece of the puzzle together, we have a lot better chance of getting to the postseason.' So there's definitely more teams involved now."The Cubs entered the All-Star break hot, winning nine of their last 13 games. The streak helped them climb out of the cellar in the NL Central, as they begin play Friday a half-game up on the 33-53 Astros.The Cubs are 8-4 since Anthony Rizzo was called up, and his presence in the three-hole and at first base has allowed Sveum to find a better balance in the lineup."Consistency," he said. "That's what we were able to do the last two weeks -- put together a lineup, put together the back end of the bullpen. Being able to mix and match with Manny Corpas, Shawn Camp and James Russell and Carlos Marmol's doing a good job in the closer's role."Those are the things you just try to establish. You end up winning a lot more games that way."With the Cubs as one of the only MLB teams considered "sellers" at the deadline, consistency may be short-lived for Sveum and this team.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.